Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Friday, 13 December 2013

A Newfound Land - Anna Belfrage - Author Guest Post & Excerpt

Today I am pleased to feature a guest post by author Anna Belfrage and an excerpt from her novel, A Newfound Land. 

Guest post by Anna Belfrage

Let me start of by expressing a major thanks to Lindsay for hosting me today. Had you been any closer, I would have invited you over for a traditional Swedish St Lucy bun and a cup of tea, but what with there being miles and miles between us, I can but offer you a virtual bun, and assure you it tastes of saffron and raisins.

Today is St Lucy’s day, a big thing in Sweden, a day when we celebrate the light that brightens the dark as represented by girls in long white linen shifts carrying lit candles in their hands. Today, of course, those real candles are often exchanged for electrical ones, so as to avoid the candles setting hair on fire. Not as atmospheric, but definitely safer. Especially if the girls in question are six or younger…

Light in this day and age is something most of us take for granted. We flip a switch and voilĂ , the room is bathed in light. Rarely do we reflect on just how much of a luxury it is to be able to illuminate our evenings – and in particular during these the darkest months of the year.

In A Newfound Land, my protagonists, Alex and Matthew Graham, have recently immigrated to Maryland. It is late 17th century, electric light is unheard of (un-invented as yet) and the Graham family live on a homestead in the middle of nowhere. In winter, their days are restricted by the waning daylight, their evenings spent in close proximity to the hearth. Not only are there no electric lamps, but candles are quite the luxury – at least the nice ones, made of beeswax. Instead, the Graham family use tallow candles, a rather smelly (and smoky) source of light.

I have a thing about the past. Give me some moments of spare time, a cosy armchair and perhaps a cup of tea, and I will succumb to one daydream or the other, most of which are set in the past, most of which star yours truly in some heroic act or other. Given my gender, I daresay my heroics in the 17th century would have been restricted to stabbing someone with a knitting needle, but still, I’d do that with quite some flair, let me tell you.

In these daydreams of mine, I conveniently ignore the more uncomfortable aspects of life in the past. Mostly it’s sunny in my daydreams. Okay, so sometimes it rains, the wind cold as it whips the hood of my cloak off my head, but that only happens when the heroine inside me is involved in some daredevil, lifesaving act or other. So, mostly it’s sunny, the water burbles in a nearby brook and the food on my plate is tasty if plain. I do have a major problem at this point in my daydreams. Meals without desserts involving some sort of chocolate are, in my opinion, not much fun. However, chocolate is a very modern invention, and back in the 17th century it would be a bitter beverage rather than a sweet dessert…

My daydreaming self reclines on feather beds, she strolls through meadows and adjusts her nice clean linen shift. Stop right there.  “Clean” is relative. We like to change our clothes on a daily basis. Back then, a shirt – or a shift – was worn for at least a week, often longer. And as to hygiene in general, well… And those feather beds, they tended to come with a complement of mice – unless you turned and aired it regularly – so as you were drifting off to sleep, chances are you’d do so to the patter of very small feet.

Alex in A Newfound Land is a time traveller - a most reluctant time traveller, thrown three centuries backwards in time. She knows all about TV and hot showers, she longs for washing machines and chocolates. And I guess she really, really wishes she could flip that switch and light up her house. She scoffs at my nostalgic take on the past (yes, we do talk to each other, Alex and I. It is one of those afflictions most writers suffer from; we develop relationships with our imaginary characters) and lists one inconvenience after the other, starting with the general lack of creature comforts and ending with the sadly dependent legal status of women.

Alex is right; the past is no sinecure, rather it was a demanding place, requiring tough people – people like Alex. She snorts when I say that, but looks quite pleased, preening somewhat as she saunters off towards the barn and her waiting husband.  When Matthew leans towards Alex to brush at her hair, I shiver and wish it was me, not her, who had been propelled back to the 17th century.  Or do I? I adjust the cushion at my back, prop up my feet on the nearby stool and conclude that life is pretty good in the here and now. Besides, I love the switch thing – I hate the dark!

Below follows a brief excerpt from A Newfound Land. Enjoy!

After supper, the younger bairns were sent to bed. Ian took Mark with him to see to the beasts, and Matthew and Alex retired to the parlour.
“Have you read the letter from Simon?” Matthew caressed Alex’s cheek in passing and went to sit in his chair, facing hers in front of the fire.
“Yes, although I’m not entirely sure if I understood it all. Simon’s handwriting is at times atrocious.”
“It seems all is well with them, even though Simon does complain that life is a trifle difficult.”
Alex shook out Sarah’s mended smock. “What was it he said? Thousands of Highlander soldiers let loose on Ayrshire?”
“Aye, and they have no reason to love us, do they?” He pursed his lips, washed by a wave of concern for his sister, Joan, and Simon, his brother-in-law.
“Well no, given the way the Covenanter armies acted in the Highlands. Bloody religion,” she said, making Matthew raise a disapproving brow. “Well, it is, isn’t it? Making Scots turn upon Scots, English upon English...and at the end of the day for what? For the right to proclaim your own interpretation of the Bible as being the valid one? God must roll His eyes in desperation at times.”
“Aye,” Matthew sighed. “He must. But it isn’t His fault, and as for the Bible, it’s all there. You don’t need an interpretation; you must but read it and reflect on it.”
“Not according to some of the ministers. Some ministers are of the firm opinion that it is them that can interpret, and we must but listen and obey – especially us featherbrained women.”
Matthew laughed and raised his foot to rest in her lap. “Obedience is an attractive quality in a woman, one unfortunately very lacking in you.”
“Watch it,” she mumbled, brandishing her needle. “You don’t want me to run this through your toe, do you?”
He laughed again and sat back with his pewter mug of whisky in his hands to look at her. In the glow from the fire and the light of the candle by her side, all of her was haloed, her dark hair throwing off glints of bronze and even gold. Not much grey in it, just the odd hair here and there and the little patch just off her right temple, creating an interesting streak of light in all that dark.
For almost fourteen years she had been in his life, and there were still days when he would give silent and fervent thanks for having her with him, for that random and miraculous occurrence a day in August that had thrown her from her time into his. 1658, he mused, on a Scottish moor, and he had found her after a terrifying thunderstorm, badly burnt and concussed, wearing the strangest garments he had ever seen. Breeches on a woman... And what breeches, narrow and blue they hugged her so close it had been like seeing her naked, her rounded arse straining against the tight cloth.
Now her bottom was hidden beneath modest skirts, her hair was no longer a wild short cap but fell to well below her shoulder blades. And only he saw her fully; she was for his eyes only when the hair tumbled in wild disarray, when her limbs were uncovered to lie pale against the sheets. Only his... He stood up and waited until she met his eyes. A small movement of his head, and she folded her work together and doused the candle with her fingers before moving in the direction of their bedchamber. He banked the fire and followed, his bare feet silent on the wooden boards.

About the novel

It’s 1672, and Matthew Graham and his family have left Scotland. Having taken the drastic decision to leave their homeland due to religious conflicts, Alexandra and Matthew hope for a simpler, if harsher, life in the wilds of the Colony of Maryland.

Unfortunately, things don’t always turn out as you want them to, and the past has a nasty tendency to resurface at the most inappropriate moments. Both Matthew and Alex are forced to cope with the unexpected reappearance of people they had never thought to meet again, and the screw is turned that much tighter when the four rogue Burley brothers enter their lives. 

Matters are further complicated by the strained relations between colonists and the Susquehannock Indians. When Matthew intercedes to stop the Burleys from abducting Indian women into slavery he makes lifelong – and deadly – enemies of them all. 

Once again Alex is plunged into an existence where death seems to threaten her man wherever he goes.
Will Matthew see himself – and his family – safe in these new circumstances? And will the past finally be laid to rest?

A Newfound Land is the fourth book in Anna Belfrage’s time slip series featuring time traveller Alexandra Lind and her seventeenth century husband, Matthew Graham.

About the Author

I was raised abroad, on a pungent mix of Latin American culture, English history and Swedish traditions. As a result I’m multilingual and most of my reading is historical – both non-fiction and fiction.

I was always going to be a writer – or a historian, preferably both. Instead I ended up with a degree in Business and Finance, with very little time to spare for my most favourite pursuit. Still, one does as one must, and in between juggling a challenging career I raised my four children on a potent combination of invented stories, historical debates and masses of good food and homemade cakes. They seem to thrive … Nowadays I spend most of my spare time at my writing desk. The children are half grown, the house is at times eerily silent and I slip away into my imaginary world, with my imaginary characters. Every now and then the one and only man in my life pops his head in to ensure I’m still there. I like that – just as I like how he makes me laugh so often I’ll probably live to well over a hundred.

I was always going to be a writer. Now I am – I have achieved my dream.

For more information, please visit Anna Belfrage’s WEBSITE.


  1. Hello Anna and Lindsay -

    Sounds like a great book!

    I also think a lot about the past and history. I also think about how difficult that it would be for we twenty first century folk to live without modern conveniences.

    Very interesting insight regarding talking to your own characters Anna. I always wondered if authors did that.

  2. Hey Brian,
    If you only knew... (how much I talk to them, I mean) Glad you enjoyed the post


Thank you so much for taking the time to visit and leave a comment. It's great reading your comments and I really appreciate them :)